- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 18, 2007

A few years down the road, January 2007 could be remembered as a turning point in American health care. A turn leftward, that is. This week, the groups best known for their stalwart opposition to Democratic universal health-care schemes in the 1990s announced two separate coalitions with former adversaries. This follows less-than-conservative health-care initiatives by Republican governors in California and Massachusetts within the past year. Viewed together, it looks like the political terrain on health care is shifting.

In one of this week’s coalitions, America’s Health Insurance Plans, whose predecessor the Health Insurance Association of America helped torpedo HillaryCare with its “Harry and Louise” ad campaign, joins Families USA, one of Sen. Hillary Clinton’s favorites, among other groups, to advocate a yet-to-be-detailed “overhaul” of health care. The other coalition joins the Business Roundtable with the Service Employees International Union, among others, for a similar purpose, also short on details. Not until the coalitions elaborate on the specifics will we know where the new health-care debate is headed.

These are the key players in American health care, buttressed by the top representatives of corporate America generally: America’s Health Insurance Plans, the Business Roundtable, plus the American Medical Association, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the American Hospital Association and others in addition to the above heavy hitters are also involved in these two coalitions. Together, this is quite nearly the entire universe of industry players — with the important exception of the pharmaceuticals industry. All may now be signaling that they find market-based health care to be unacceptable.

If SchwarzeneggerCare is any indication, the direction is likely to be measurably to the left of previous years. Mr. Schwarzenegger’s plan for universal coverage includes “pay or play,” a 4 percent payroll tax and a four percent tax on doctors and hospitals to cover the uninsured. More than half the state’s population will be eligible for state subsidies. The plan also sets rigid limits on profits and administrative costs, patient-care spending requirements and expands the state’s Healthy Families program to children whose families earn less than three times the poverty level, including the children of illegal aliens. In other words, Democrats can learn to love a “Republican” health-care plan if it looks like Mr. Schwarzenegger’s. This is a decent imitation of HillaryCare.

No one is saying much about how we’ll pay for all this, of course, which is where the rubber meets the road. The most trenchant and convincing criticisms of universalhealth-care schemes continue to be the issues of feasibility, inefficiency, bureaucracy and waste. No one can reasonably oppose health insurance for every American in theory; it’s the statism and the lack of a workable plan which draw opposition. For the present moment, though, both Washington coalitions would rather sound warm and fuzzy. They now wear the “strange bedfellows” label on their sleeves in public displays of comity with their newfound allies as if to promote some new era of good feeling.

Here’s something we won’t ever be able to feel good about: In recent years, Mrs. Clinton and allies have been forced to hedge their views on health care. Now, with Mr. Schwarzenegger seemingly to their left, they no longer need to. If Democrats gain the White House in 2008 and keep both chambers of Congress, a serious drive for a statist, single-payer universal health-care program for the country could well be unavoidable.

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